Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

“Danika” Day 11

Today was a fun day – we shot car crash stuff on the Universal back lot’s New York Street.

Universal Backlot

The buildings in the foreground look real, but are in fact facades (the white thing in the background is Universal Studios Theme Park). This is what they look like on the inside:

Universal Backlot

Due to the technical nature and required safety precautions, even simple car crash stuff like our shot today (minivan runs red light, gets t boned by school bus) is insanely complicated. They have to take out the gas tank and fuel line of the van (so it won’t explode and burn when it gets hit), and then they have to rig up a cable to pull it through the scene (there’s no gas tank, so the engine can’t run), and then they have to rig the windows with explosive charges so they’ll blow out in a cinematic manner. The timing of stunt drivers has to be perfect, so they rehearse it a million times to make sure they’ve got it right.

Since they can only do the stunt once (we only have one van), the scene gets shot with a bunch of cheap cameras that are placed in metal boxes called ‘crash housings’ and then hidden in the set.


Since it’s all day exterior, we didn’t have much to do. We ran some cable in case we had to get out lights, but they got everything done with available light.

The grips, on the other hand, were really busy all day.

Grip rig

They had a bunch of cameras rigged in vehicles, they had a big green screen to rig, and they just generally got slammed. I almost felt bad for them as I sat on the gate of the truck and read my paper.

Rigging right next to us, in the ‘town square’ (no matter how they dress it, it’s still recognizable to me as the set of “Back to the Future”) was a TV show called “Ghost Whisperer”.

They were getting territorial, and tried to stop us from crossing some line which marked ‘their’ turf – there was some sort of producer pissing match, and ours must have won because we ended up being able to use a little bit of their space to rig the van, although they still refused to let us run cable through the area.

The only bummer is that we couldn’t get a golf cart (they’ve all been rented), so we couldn’t sneak into the theme park and go on the “Jurassic Park” ride, as we’re at the opposite end of a HUGE lot.


They had a shot on another part of the lot (I have no idea what it was), and they had extras (background actors) driving the cars because the stunt drivers were busy rigging the crash. One of the AD’s told me they shot it seventeen times with the extras driving and still couldn’t get the choreography right. Then, some of the stunt drivers freed up, went up there and they got it right on the second try.

Filed under: Photos, Work

4 Responses

  1. Apostle John says:

    Very interesting! Enjoying your blog

  2. Great blog! You now have me checking it daily.

  3. Anonymous says:

    How typical! When you finally get the guys who really know what they are doing (the stunt people) everything goes more smoothly. I guess that’s why they’re paid the big bucks. What do you think about stunt people wanting an Oscar category?

  4. Peggy Archer says:

    Glad you like the blog!

    I think the stunt people should have a category in the technical oscars. They do amazing work and it should be recognized.

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